World's biggest pork processor closing South Dakota plant where 238 employees have coronavirus

With coronavirus spreading through its employee ranks, Smithfield Foods, the world's biggest pork processor, announced on Sunday it is closing its Sioux Falls, South Dakota, plant indefinitely.

The plant employs about 3,700 workers, and 238 are now infected with the COVID-19 coronavirus. The Smithfield employees account for 55 percent of South Dakota's total number of known coronavirus cases, Gov. Kristi Noem (R) said Saturday. Originally, the plant was only going to be closed temporarily for a deep cleaning, but Noem and the mayor of Sioux Falls recommended shutting it down for at least two weeks, Reuters reports. Smithfield said it will pay employees for the next two weeks, and will reopen after getting the okay from local and state officials.

The Sioux Falls plant represents 4 to 5 percent of U.S. pork production, Reuters says, and in a statement released Sunday, Smithfield CEO Ken Sullivan warned the U.S. is moving "perilously close to the edge" of having enough meat to fill store shelves. "It is impossible to keep our grocery stores stocked if our plants are not running," he added. "These facility closures will also have severe, perhaps disastrous, repercussions for many in the supply chain, first and foremost our nation's livestock farmers."

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